Managing Distress After a Crisis


November 5, 2020
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

This year has been a time of nearly constant crisis. Anxiety and uncertainty abound. Coping with the painful emotions that come with these circumstances can be very difficult, and often harmful. People may binge eat or drink, self-isolate, avoid anything related to the crisis—or, alternatively, engage in “doomscrolling,” continuously inundating themselves with bad news.
It is hard, with this barrage of crisis and loss, to not feel lost ourselves.

If you are looking for positive ways to cope with the distress caused by living through so many crisis events, the following tips will show you where to start, and give you actionable advice on where to go from there.

  1. Make sure your emotions are under control. Give yourself the time you need to get emotionally regulated after a stressful incident. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgment. This may take time, so be patient with yourself.
  2. Focus on the facts of the event. Speculations about a crisis are often not grounded in reality, and are just as often catastrophizing. Avoid the panic of conjecture.
  3. Consult reliable sources. This may be reliable news sources, authorities, or those involved depending on the type of crisis.
  4. Make positive choices. Remember your priorities and make the conscious decision to support yourself. Monitor your emotions to know when to step away from information about the crisis event to protect yourself emotionally. This might mean turning off the television, avoiding social media, not checking work email during off hours (if possible), cooking a nice meal, or just closing your eyes for a few seconds in silence.
  5. Maintain a support network of family, friends, and colleagues. Stay connected to those who care for you and ask for the help that you need. Who do you know who won’t immediately go into “advice mode” but who will listen and validate your feelings? 
  6. Focus on what you can do. After a crisis you may feel powerless and hopeless, so consider something actionable. Are you able to donate time or money to a relevant cause? Offer kind words to others struggling with similar feelings of distress? Share what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown with others?
  7. Continue routine activities. A sense of normalcy can go a long way toward mitigating distress. Try to stick to a basic daily schedule. This could be as simple as making your favorite morning beverage and enjoying the early morning peace. Maybe it’s spending time with pets or children.
  8. Do something small for yourself and for someone you care about. Small things matter! An unexpected letter or gift sent to a loved one, or an impromptu nature walk for yourself can help to generate some positive feelings for you to focus on.
  9. Ask for professional help if you feel you need it. There are resources available to assist you. These include community social service programs, your local public health service, and resources available through your employer-sponsored employee assistance program (EAP), medical insurance, and other employee benefit plans. Don’t hesitate to find the help you need.

Give yourself permission to follow these steps and take care of yourself. Set boundaries where necessary to protect yourself mentally and emotionally. Remember that taking time for yourself benefits everyone that you interact with as well.
These are hard, even traumatic times, that we are living though. Acknowledging that, and affording some compassion for yourself will help you make it through.

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